House Committee Approves One-Sided Water Deal, Rejects Rep. Huffman’s Attempts to Drain the Swamp and Address Conflicts of Interest
Washington, D.C.- Today, the House Natural Resources Committee voted down four amendments by Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) to improve H.R. 1769, the San Luis Unit Drainage Resolution Act. The Huffman amendments would have safeguarded taxpayers from potential self-dealing by lobbyists associated with the Trump Interior Department, protected tribal interests, required the cleanup of toxic drainwater, ensured that all legal liability be extinguished, and blocked water districts officials under criminal investigation from handling federal funds. All of these safeguards for taxpayers and the environment were rejected on a near-party-line vote.
“Despite the President’s rhetoric about draining the swamp, he, along with the Republican majority in Congress, have done everything in their power to stock the swamp with alligators,” said Rep. Huffman. “Today’s committees vote to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in relief to a well-connected water agency, whose lawyer was on the Trump transition team, is just the latest example. Republicans refused to pass my common-sense changes to this expensive water settlement: they refused to make lobbyists recuse themselves from implementing a legal deal that would affect their clients, and refused to protect taxpayers and the environment. This legislation is already a bad deal for water quality, the environment, and American taxpayers, and cannot afford to be made even worse by toxic conflicts of interest.”
Rep. Huffman offered four different amendments today to H.R. 1769, which were all struck down by Republicans in the House Natural Resources Committee.
· An amendment that requires any official or employee of the executive branch, who in the past 5 years has been registered as a Federal lobbyist on behalf of the Westlands Water District or any other water district affected by H.R. 1769, to recuse themselves from any involvement in implementation of this bill. This would eliminate the opportunity for individuals like David Bernhardt, who has been a registered lobbyist for the Westlands Water District and is reportedly on the short list to be the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, to involve themselves in the implementation of the water settlement authorized by H.R. 1769;
· An amendment to require that the Westlands Water District prepares and submits a comprehensive drainage management plan with measurable environmental objectives, including water quality and specific enforceable performance measures, to the California State Water Resources Control Board, to ensure that the toxic drainwater that is the subject of long-running litigation is actually cleaned up;
· An amendment to require that agreements with other affected water districts include safeguards to ensure that anyone under criminal investigation cannot access funds that may be provided through the bill. During a Natural Resources Committee hearing on the bill in 2016, the Interior Department testified that the Inspector General has an open investigation into one or more of these water districts. The amendment would also postpone the benefits of the bill until agreements are reached with all of those affected water districts to fully extinguish the threat of further litigation; and
· An amendment to ensure that the implementation of H.R. 1769 will not damage the fisheries of the Trinity and Klamath Rivers. This would require that the Secretary of Interior conduct a government-to-government consultation with the Hoopa Valley Tribe and any other federally recognized Indian tribe in the Klamath-Trinity Watershed that seeks consultation regarding the impact of H.R. 1769.
David Bernhardt, who is rumored to be Trump’s pick for the number two spot at the Department of the Interior, and who would therefore likely oversee the implementation of H.R. 1769, has been in the news for alleged conflicts of interest, including in this report on his business interests.
Last year, Rep. Huffman launched an investigation into the Westlands Water District’s settlement with the federal government. The settlement agreement would forgive hundreds of millions of dollars owed by Westlands yet lacks key safeguards and assurances that the water district will hold up its side of the bargain.
Earlier this week, Rep. Huffman joined Ranking Member Grijalva in again asking the Department of Interior to provide additional information pertaining to HR. 1769 and the underlying settlement. The legislators have been waiting nearly a year for this information.